The Bats – Foothills

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 8)

I’ve made some (excellent) album purchases in the last several months, so I think it is time to backfill the relevant parts of my alphabetized collection. There is so much to appreciate about Foothills. It is the Bats’ tenth album, coming in their 38th year of existence – as previously mentioned, always with the same line-up. The music is just as appealing, polished, and melodic as everything else they’ve released. What a tremendous fucking band!

What I Think of This Album

There were probably a lot of reasons why this album might not have existed. The Bats have absolutely nothing left to prove – they’re giants of the New Zealand music scene and their track record is unassailable. They’re all in their late 50s to late 60s, and not only have day jobs but other musical projects as well. And the album was released during the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving the band with no ability to tour internationally to promote it. But we are all very fortunate that it does exist.

The Bats grace us with twelve warm, woody, comforting songs, mostly jangly in nature and sometimes augmented with colorful keyboard. Robert Scott delivers another strong batch of mostly downcast songs which he sings with his distinctive voice, and guitarist Kaye Woodward adds her perpetually underappreciated guitar leads as well as critical backing vocals and keyboards, too. The rhythm section of bassist (and sometimes second guitarist) Paul Kean and drummer Malcolm Grant adds a sense of urgency and fullness to the proceedings. That the record company could print the lyrics to twelve songs on two pages with plenty of negative space left over speaks to the economy of Scott’s songwriting.

As on all Bats albums, there is nothing to complain about and much to praise. “Red Car” is deceptively simple lyrically, but Scott and Woodward give revelatory performances that turn this so-basic-it’s-opaque song into a cathedral of musicality. The backing includes what sounds to me like a melodica, but there is no such credit (rather, it appears Woodward is making these sounds on a keyboard); in any event, it adds depth, drama, and nuance to what ends up being a stunningly beautiful song.

“Warwick” is another standout, with a precise and sharp lead part and energetic drumming; when Woodward adds her vocal harmonies, it feels like a flower blooming. The delicate “Beneath the Visor” finds Scott and Woodward making lyrics like “I’m none the wiser with you” sound like the pinnacle of romance. 

An atmospheric arrangement adds mystery and drama to the lovely “Scrolling.” The same is true of the watery guitar tones on the majestic “Another Door,” which benefits from an uplifting chorus that showcases Woodward’s vocal harmonies again; she also adds a great (albeit short) solo that Neil Young would be proud of. 

“Field of Vision” is one of the more upbeat tunes, with a great guitar part from Woodward and emphatic propulsion courtesy of Grant. “Change Is All” hints at domestic difficulties but does so via a charming melody, and towards the end of the song, the band adds a very encouraging drone (likely via Kean’s ebow guitar).

“As You Were” comes across as more intricate and also slightly darker in tone than the rest of the songs here, though Scott finds a way to interject some unusual bird-related humor into the proceedings (“You couldn’t say boo to a goose / You’re such a chicken”). Conversely, the surprisingly pounding “Smaller Pieces” sounds like the work of a tougher band, which is not to say there isn’t some delicate guitar work in the mix; this track may be the most welcome surprise on the entire album. Another surprise is the coda to this song.

The ebow makes additional appearances on “Gone to Ground,” which vacillates between reflective and somber, and the much more engaging “Electric Sea View,” which is the kind of song I could envision Ride playing when they are this age (if they are fortunate enough). 

Yes, it’s a Flying Nun release.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Red Car” is phenomenal.

Release Date

November, 2020

The Cover Art

Reminds me of Yo La Tengo’s Fade, but in any event, this is very pretty and calming. Good sans-serif font use, but perhaps too large and not well-placed.

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